business

Japan Inc's safety failures point to deeper malaise

14 Comments
By Sam Nussey

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The manner in which this article is written sure seems to make it sound like this is a recent problem, but as shown by records from at least Kobe steel, it goes back decades, possibly before and during the bubble years as well. Meaning that the "image" portrayed had faults at it's roots, and was covered up for a long, long, time.

Also;

Japanese companies are not alone in being caught up in scandals,

So? When it comes to Japan making complaints, they refuse to accept comparisons to other countries, businesses or whatever, but when it comes to Japan, obfuscation is the key word.

“There is a need for more micromanagement,” he said on the sidelines of the Tokyo Motor Show. “They are missing the hands-on approach.”

Not just no, but HELL NO, Japanese companies are already micromanaged to death. Literally in some cases, and when people fear going against management nothing positive will ever occur.

It needs less micromanagement and more actual skills development and training and the ability to say "no" when something is wrong!

6 ( +9 / -3 )

The pay gap is stark, with regular workers last year on average paid 321,700 yen monthly compared with 211,800 yen for contract workers.

Well, what do they expect? "If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys!" On the other hand, there are many full-time workers who are nothing but unskilled salary-sucking parasites and spend all day drinking coffee and telling the temps to do their work for them. Over 60% of the workforce is on these short-term contracts with no security and performance reviews every year for contract renewal (just like foreign English teachers). This creates a lot of pressure and stress on workers. Happy and content workers are good workers that take pride in their work. Worried and insecure workers don't give a poop! However, these scandals involving falsified safety reports do not come from the temp workers. They come from the immoral management of the companies, so why are they trying to pin it on the temps?

4 ( +7 / -3 )

That expensive lifetime employment system was the reason Japan Inc produced such amazing quality.....they had a strong incentive to make sure their company succeeded. If you're paid 2/3 salary and will be thrown away like an empty bottle at the end of your contract (with no hope of ever being permanent), where exactly is your motivation supposed to come from? Can't get married, buy a home, plan a life...just get home late, eat your combini bento, go to sleep in your Leopalace and then get up to do it all again tomorrow. And be ready to move to a different city next year to do it again.

11 ( +13 / -2 )

On the other hand, there are many full-time workers who are nothing but unskilled salary-sucking parasites and spend all day drinking coffee and telling the temps to do their work for them.

This BIGGEST of these parasites and a huge drag on the overall economy, because they actually produce nothing, are the one's in the local municipal offices.

I used to work for a city office, and like you wrote here, all the full time "komuin" sat on their butts, and ran the temps ragged.

There is a ton of dead weight in many Japanese companies.

8 ( +10 / -2 )

I would agree with the comments about temporary employees. I have been in many factories in several industries in Japan and this really accelerated when Koizumi was in office (use of temporary workers). There was something to be said for the old "sempai"/"kohai" relationship.

I think the quality of Japan's products are still quite high in 2 industries; precision machinery and automobiles. Not sure about the others.

Finally I think although not directly applicable, the Message from the Chairman (page 9) of the document linked below is somewhat applicable in these cases as well. Specifically where the statement says, "This conceit was reinforced by the collective mindset of Japanese bureaucracy, by which the first duty of any individual bureaucrat is to defend the interests of his organization. Carried to an extreme, this led bureaucrats to put organizational interests ahead of their paramount duty to protect public safety"

https://www.nirs.org/wp-content/uploads/fukushima/naiic_report.pdf

Japan lacks third party oversight in most of its industries and I believe this is definitely needed.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Some years ago I worked for a large Japanese printer manufacturer. The factory was not meeting production targets so a new Japanese MD was shipped in. One by one he went around the assembled managers asking what was needed to meet production targets and got the same B/S answers as his predecessor. So, having worked on the shop floor I piped up with suggestions – More end of line scanners to scan the barcodes of finished goods. Printer pools to print off shipping and tracking paperwork as the single EOL printers were hammered and often jammed and a number of other suggestions much to the horrified look of more senior managers in the room. At this point the new MD leaped to his feet and stormed out of the room heading towards the factory floor. Managers hurriedly followed. The MD went line by line asking each team leader what they needed to increase production and one by one they confirmed what I had said. The lines got their extra scanners and more allowing production to exceed target. That MD had a simple philosophy – “go to the real place, see the real problem, find the real solution” In all the years since I have never seen this applied and yet, for a business to thrive the grass roots, the workforce, the working practice and pride in the job has to be fully supported by management and that cannot be done if management never leave their ivory towers.

10 ( +11 / -1 )

Might be temps doing this or not doing that, making this problem. But management decisions to not train them adequately and giving them instructions that the temps follow. It's a management driven problem, the false reporting of standards for 30 years at all a company's sites can not be blamed on temps. Nor can unqualified safety inspectors be blamed on temps, years of management allowing the practice to continue is the problem. The temp system is vile, as are management practices which have caused this whole mess.

5 ( +7 / -2 )

These non-regular workers allow companies to cut costs and adjust their workforce, said Koji Morioka, emeritus professor at Kansai University and an expert on workplace issues. But it has led to a de-skilling of the factory floor, lowering standards and increasing the likelihood of wrongdoing and accidents, he said.

I strongly dispute Morioka's view that increasing temporary contracts causes the de-skilling of the factory floor.

I say the de-skilling comes from a failure in Japanese management. See Parissa Haghirian's comment from the article:

“There is a real human resource problem,” she said, with the traditional model of hiring workers straight out of school or university, teaching them on the job and rotating them between departments no longer functioning well.

From what I've seen, actual training in Japan is abysmally inept. There's no formalization to the process, no organized manuals that people can consult easily to see how a company works. Everyone just depends on sempai to mentor kohai, with no real oversight into if kohai truly understands what's going on or if sempai is actually teaching effectively. And at most places I've been, staff are so overworked that even if sempai wanted to, they don't have time to think through a formally-organized training schedule. At some point, kohai just becomes sempai, even if kohai still doesn't get the organization. Age, not competency, decides who leads.

Some Japanese makers have taken the attitude that “because the factory floor is well run, quality control and inspection can be applied as an afterthought,” said Tadashi Kunihiro, a lawyer who is a director and auditor on company boards.

This. So much this. There are companies here that are so up their own arses about being "Japan, Inc." that they think they can do no wrong, even when they are literally doing wrong as we speak and have been doing so maybe for as long as "Japan, Inc." was a thing. The traditional Japanese office mentality, which is so young sociologically speaking that it's silly we even think of it as a tradition, is just relied upon to fix real problems without the people in power actually thinking through and enacting real solutions.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

With margins squeezed by a stagnant domestic market and rivalry from China and South Korea, many factories have cut costs, reducing their reliance on workers in lifetime employment in favor of laborers on temporary contracts.

I am sorry but this is quite difficult to believe that somehow China and South Korea or temporary contacts have something do to with Japan Inc problems. This is more about institutional corruption, sloppy work and unethical business practises. I mean Subaru admitted that the falsified safety inspections have been going on for thirty years. This brings us back to 1987, so how the reasons listed above have anything to do with the problem? Nissan also admitted that the falsified safety inspections have been going on since the middle of the 70's,.... the 70's. So the same question applies, how the reasons listed above have anything to do with the problem? The same can be said for Kobe Steel which admitted that the falsifications have been going on for thirty years.

Could JapanToday's editorial provide a clarification on this point? It seems to me that what is written in this article is not really correct.

Japanese companies are not alone in being caught up in scandals, with European and U.S. companies caught cutting corners and manipulating results in areas like vehicle emissions tests to the sale of meat. 

Yeah yeah the usual argument but I find difficult to deny the point that Japan is way more affected by scandals involving companies that US or Europe.

I mean: Tepco, Japan Atomic Corp, Toyo Tires, Takata, Olympus, the Toyota fiasco, Suzuki and Mitsubishi (fuel emission scandal), Toshiba, Kaketsuken (major vaccine, blood product records fraud going on for forty years), Kimura Construction (falsification of quake resistance data), Asahi Kasei (data fabrication scandal on piling work), the Japan's menu scandal involving well-known hotels and department stores, the HIV-tainted blood scandal involving the Green Cross Corporation. The list can go on and on but I can specially add the Minamata disease caused by Chisso Corporation (reorganized as JNC, Japan New Chisso...) or the scandal dating back to the middle of the 90's where it was found that the entire Japanese nuclear industry had (has) ties with Yakuza. The latter were providing them low cost workers to work in dangerous environment, most of these people being homeless (the same practice was discovered recently to find workers to clean up the Fukushima mess).

So I find difficult to blame of lack of skilled workers or some other excuse to explain the major deficiencies of Japan Inc which again has more to do with ethics in business. Japan Inc (and in fact the Japanese government protecting it) is full of crooks who have absolutely no remorse when it comes to make money.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

With margins squeezed by a stagnant domestic market and rivalry from China and South Korea, many factories have cut costs, reducing their reliance on workers in lifetime employment in favor of laborers on temporary contracts.

I am sorry but this is quite difficult to believe that somehow China and South Korea or temporary contacts have something do to with Japan Inc problems. This is more about institutional corruption, sloppy work and unethical business practises. I mean Subaru admitted that the falsified safety inspections have been going on for thirty years. This brings us back to 1987, so how the reasons listed above have anything to do with the problem? Nissan also admitted that the falsified safety inspections have been going on since the middle of the 70's,.... the 70's. So the same question applies, how the reasons listed above have anything to do with the problem? The same can be said for Kobe Steel which admitted that the falsifications have been going on for thirty years.

Could JapanToday's editorial provide a clarification on this point? It seems to me that what is written in this article is not really correct.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I have no sympathy. The bottom line is that "Made in Japan" has become synonymous with scandal and poor quality, or at least questionable quality, at extremely high prices. As long as Japanese society will accept what is in the photo as adequate "punishment" NOTHING will change, and THAT is the real problem. Start jailing some of these people and stripping away all their riches, not given them golden parachutes and amakudari jobs for "retiring" after taking the fall.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

Where I come from there were govt standards and training, whereas over here the company shaped the trainee after govt schooling. 

After all the ups and downs and many years to look back to 

Scandals are our human heritage as perfect was only the elusive bubble

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This morning they were talking about QC problems on TV.

Example: Company headquartered in Japan buys Product Y from Company X in Taiwan which in turn buys from Company Z in China who buys from sub-contractor A,B,C,etc

Who is responsible for the product?

Also many products are 'stealth recalled/replaced' without going public about it.

Government should push for more ISO certification, IMHO.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

do writers and editors read their own article?

japan inc cant compete! too many perm workers are driving cost up, too many temp workers driving quality down... so no workers are the solution?

the temp workers are to blame for following a policy implemented by management to skip quality check in favor of cost to the company? and since management isnt following rules, the solution is management nèeds to keep an closer eye on the line workers via micromanagement?

good god i hope something is miss translated

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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